Anthony Raneri of Bayside
Greg Prato (Songfacts)
Anthony Raneri is a pop songwriter disguised as a punk rocker. He holds Max Martin and Dr. Luke - the guys responsible for all those Katy Perry and Kesha cuts - in the highest esteem. He even does a little ghostwriting for unnamed pop stars when he's not working on Bayside material, which he describes as "sub-gressive music with sweet vocal melodies over it."
Formed in 2000, many members of Bayside have come and gone over the years, but since 2006, they have been comprised of Raneri (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Jack O'Shea
(lead guitar, backing vocals), Nick Ghanbarian (bass guitar, backing vocals), and Chris Guglielmo (drums, percussion). In 2014, they released their sixth studio album, Cult
In this chat with Raneri, he talks about his surprising songwriting influences and how he steps outside of his comfort zone to find inspiration.
: Let's start by discussing the new album Cult
. It's been a few years since the previous Bayside albums.
: From a songwriter perspective, this album was a really different approach for me. I've always been sort of a "let it happen the way it happens" kind of writer, but on this record more than any other record, I revisited songs and rewrote parts. You know, really, really thought a lot about it. Up until the point when I was in the vocal booth recording vocals, I was still questioning every line, whether it was the best line. So that was an interesting approach for me. Incredibly stressful, but it was a really interesting approach because normally it flows a little bit more and then it happens the way it does.
But, really, Bayside's approach to writing our records all the time is what's the best version of Bayside. We don't try to reinvent the wheel. I think we tried doing that early in our career, and we stumbled on our sound. We were experimenting a lot, and we did find our sound somewhere along the way.
I always say I'm the biggest Bayside fan. Bayside is my favorite band. So I listen to past Bayside records and I think about what I want my favorite band's next record to sound like. So I try to pinpoint what works and what doesn't work about every record, and then I try to apply that.
On this record, I think that my vocal melodies are very important; I think that my lyrics are very important; I think that Jack's guitar work - a really intricate kind of metal angle on the guitar work - is really important. And the aggression is really important.
This record is the best version of Bayside. Our wheelhouse is sub-gressive music with sweet vocal melodies over it. To put it in its simplest form.
: How would you say that you write your best songs? Is it usually you wait for inspiration to come or maybe there's a little part comes, and then you build on it?
: My technique is to nurture inspiration. Anybody who writes songs knows that it could hit when you're watching a movie, when you hear a song, or when you read a book. And anything could happen. You could go for a walk, and anything could happen to spawn an idea. I've heard squeaky city bus brakes that sound like a melody, and I take it.
So every day I'm constantly thinking of blurbs of ideas, whether it's a line or a quick melody or a rhythm, and then I'll record those. I'll record those either into my phone or into the computer or whatever. Then I'll build this catalogue of ideas, and when it comes time to write a record and we're off the road and I'm home focusing on writing a new album, I go back into all those ideas and I see which is the best lines of what I can put together or build off of.
: What about as far as lyric writing - how do you find that you write your best lyrics?
: I sort of come up with lines that I think are great. Throughout the years, on tour or whatever, I'll have a huge file on my phone or my notepad or wherever. It could be one paragraph, it could be a line; it could be pages and pages of just throwing up songs. And then I'll usually find the key lines or the key idea, and I'll work around that. So there could be one line that I think is a great line and it fits perfectly into this one chorus of this one song I'm doing, and that'll be the first line of the chorus. And then I'll work around it.
It's not like poetry necessarily. Some people write a song in order like it's one long poem. I go back. I'll start in the middle and go back to the beginning and jump to the end and wherever.
: And have you found a subject that has recurred in your lyric writing over the years?
: A lot of times I'll try to play games within the songs. Sometimes I'll give myself a task and then I'll try to accomplish that task, and it winds up helping me write something more interesting.
There's a song on The Walking Wounded
record called "They're Not Horses, They're Unicorns," where before I wrote it, I said I want to try to count down: three, two, one. I wrote around that, and it wound up being this kind of cool thing. There have been other songs where I said, "I want to try to reference nursery rhymes in this song," and then I'll do that.
But I guess as far as recurring themes, I write a lot about the future, and uncertainty in the future. You know, even when I'm writing about a current situation like a relationship thing, it's always about what comes next. And with this next record, that's certainly the biggest thing. In this past year I had a few important deaths in my family. I lost my grandfather and my stepfather and my stepbrother all within three months. But also, I had my first child this year and I got married this year. It was a crazy, crazy year. If you were going to pick a year to write an album, it couldn't have been a more inspirational year.
But all that - losing people and gaining people - it made the world a lot bigger, it made me feel a lot smaller in it. So I wrote a lot more about me and my generation and what's going to come of us. I think a lot about how I was sitting at my grandfather's wake and listening to these stories about him. People were talking about "That generation, the greatest generation," and everybody has those stories about those people. They're war heroes and they're grandfathers and they're fathers and they're mentors. They're men, they're gentlemen, they're husbands. And it made me think about me and my generation. Are we going to match up to that? Is that something you have to work towards? So that's a big theme on this record, for sure.
: Have you ever written a song on an instrument other than guitar?
I love Max Martin as much as I love Bad Religion.
: Yeah. I've written some songs on piano before. I definitely don't call myself a piano player, and when people ask me if I play the piano I say no, because I have too much respect for the instrument to call myself a piano player.
But sometimes I play piano just for the same reason that I throw myself off lyrically: I'll just say, "Okay, this song you have to count down from 10 to 1 somehow within the lyrics," and it just throws me off in a good way. So sometimes I'll sit at a piano or I'll pick up a mandolin and just see where it goes. It forces a fresh headspace.
: Can you give some examples of some songs that you wrote on piano, and you just mentioned also mandolin.
: On the Shudder
record there's a song called "Moceanu" that I wrote on the mandolin. And on Killing Time
there was a good amount of stuff that I wrote on piano. "On Love, On Life" I wrote on piano.
Let me think about this record. "Time Has Come" actually was going to be the single on the record. "Time Has Come" I wrote all electronically, actually.
I wrote that when I was working on something else. I do some ghostwriting stuff for other people, and I was working on a session for a pop singer, so it was really electronic based. I did that all on a keyboard - like a synthesizer - and drum machines and stuff like that. So I wrote that song completely in the box. That was all written electronically in a computer, and then I moved it over to be like a rock song.
: How did you come to start ghostwriting for other artists?
Ghostwriting is a sometimes controversial practice when someone writes a song for another artist, but does not receive public credit for their services, receiving money but not accolades. It's most prevalent in the hip-hop rubric, with Jay Z claiming to do some ghostwriting back in the '90s. "I get paid a lot of money to not tell you who I write for," he said in an interview with Vibe.
: It started within our scene - I was helping a couple of friends and bands within our punk rock scene, because I love songwriting and I really try to take it further than a lot of other people might within our world. So I get asked a lot for help, because in our scene they don't always look to showtunes and some of the greatest songwriters of all-time for inspiration. They look to their contemporaries. Whereas, I'm really a student of songwriting.
: That leads to the next question, which is who would you say are some of your favorite songwriters?
: I really appreciate pop music. I absolutely love it and I really think that's a big part of why Bayside sounds like Bayside sounds. I love Max Martin as much as I love Bad Religion. So I think that's a really important part of our sound.
But, yeah, I like the current great pop guys that are writing everything. Dr. Luke, obviously. I love those guys. And to some people it may not be obvious in our music, but it really is - it does play a big part.
And ELO is one of my favorite bands ever. So I just really love great songwriters. Obviously, the Beatles, the most cliché thing to ever say.
: What is the trickiest Bayside song to sing and also play guitar at the same time?
: There's a song called "Dear Tragedy" that wound up being a real popular song with our fans. There are Bayside songs that we've never played live and probably never will just because they didn't translate to songs that the fans ask to hear, but "Dear Tragedy" we have to play live. But I can't play it and sing it at the same time. Parts of it are in 10/8 and then there's time signature changes, it goes to 3. There's 10/8, there's 3/4 and 4/4 all within the song. Time signature changes, tempo changes, it's really high in my range, also. It's not even an option for me to play it and sing it at the same time. But people ask to hear it all the time, so we do play it every once in a while on tours and when we do I always have my guitar tech play the guitar and I grab the mike. I can't even do it. It's impossible for me.
: I once read an interview with Geddy Lee from the band Rush and he said that he sometimes has to first learn a song just on the bass, and then he has to separately learn to sing it. And then he tries to slowly combine the two.
: Yeah. It's hard. It's a really hard thing to do. Geddy Lee is a monster, and it's even hard for him sometimes. I don't consider myself that great of a guitar player. Playing the guitar for me is a vehicle for writing songs.
It also depends on how ambitious of a songwriter you are. I try not to let anything stop me from writing a great song, including technical ability. I'll go ahead and write it and record it, and then worry about how the hell I'm going to play it later.
: You talked about writing "Time Has Come" on a computer. Are there any other songs that you've written that way, or is that the first one that you've written that way?
: I think it's the first one I ever wrote without an instrument.
: Tell me about writing the song "Sick Sick Sick"?
: "Sick Sick Sick," that one took forever to write. I rewrote the chorus 100 times because we knew that was going to be the single on that record before it was even done. We thought the verse was there, we thought the pre-chorus was there, we really thought the whole vibe of the song was there and we felt we really had something with it. As far as commercially, it's our most successful song, got the most radio play and stuff, so we knew we were kind of onto something.
That made it hard to finalize, though. Because when you know you've got something good, you don't want to fuck it up. So that was a tough one. I think there's about five different versions of that song with five different choruses that were recorded, all using different demos and stuff like that.
: Were you aware beforehand that Queens of the Stone Age had a song also called "Sick Sick Sick" a few years before?
: I didn't. No, I didn't know that. I know that now, but I didn't know that at the time.
: What about the song "Duality"?
: "Duality" was the only song ever in Bayside's career that we co-wrote with anybody. We co-wrote that with our producer Shep Goodman, who's done three of our records. He did the new record, too. Him and I had our manager at the time, Nate Albert, who played guitar in the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, the three of us got together in the studio while we were almost done recording that record. We had a couple more days left to record. The whole record was done, and then the three of us were having lunch and one of them was kicking around on an acoustic guitar while we were all eating, and that came out.
: And then to go back a little bit further, what about "Devotion and Desire"?
: "Devotion and Desire," I listen to it now and I love it. The song is almost 10 years old now. I wouldn't do it now - I just think, "My God, I was angry when I was 21 years old." [Laughs] I don't know that I could ever harness that sort of aggression again. I'm 31 now, and my life has changed so much for the better. I listen to it and I'm like, "God..." I almost listen to it like it's somebody else. But somebody I wish I could be.
As far as the fans are concerned, that's the most popular Bayside song. We closed with that song on tours for eight years straight. And I absolutely love it. It's still my favorite song to play live.
: What do you think of the current state of songwriting in pop music and also rock music? Would you say that there is good songwriting out there today if you compare it to the older days?
: I think it was good for a minute. A couple of years ago there was some good stuff happening, as far as pop goes. It was getting really interesting, but right at the very current moment, I think it's taking a bit of a turn for the worse. Because now with EDM becoming so popular, a lot of the real heavy-hitting pop stars and the people who are writing their songs are relying a little too much on that. They're relying a little bit too much on effects and sonic gimmicks to carry a song.
Even as recently as a couple of years ago, like with Katy Perry records and stuff like that, people were still writing great songs. A great song, I think any songwriter would agree, is when you pick up an acoustic guitar and you play it and sing along, or you play it on a piano and you sing and that's it. If it's good there, then that's a good song.
And currently, I don't know that you could do that with a lot of the big pop songs.
May 28, 2014. For more Bayside, go to baysidebayside.com.